Kate Fenton


The Colours of Snow
Dancing to the Pipers
Lions & Liquorice/
(US) Vanity and Vexation

Balancing on Air
Too Many Godmothers
Picking Up
The Time of Her Life

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Book Availability

Available on tape

Published in USA under title:
VANITY AND VEXATION: a novel of Pride and Prejudice

‘You don’t have to have read Pride and Prejudice – much less remember it – to enjoy the rewrite.  It works beautifully in its own right.  If you do know Austen’s novel, you get double the fun…  The tone is witty, the pace quick, and the emotions true to the contemporary characters.’
The Washington Post

A sparkling, frothy tale… There are neat inversions of Austen's plot, lively characters, intelligent writing and a fun love affair
The Sunday Times

Exciting, sexy, funny… This fresh optimistic tale is the perfect summer read… A witty and clever love story that will keep you gripped until the end - guaranteed to get even the most cynical of readers heaving a deep sigh of contentment.

Frothy, humorous and slick
Daily Express

'Tall, dark and arrogantly handsome - not to mention distinguished, powerful and rolling in money. Mr Darcy? No, that's just the woman director of Pride and Prejudice…'
…so reports Nicholas Llewellyn Bevan, impoverished novelist and occasional (reluctant) journalist, when a TV production company trundles into his dozy North Yorkshire valley. Bemusedly he watches these glamorous invaders combine the filming of Jane Austen's romantic classic with the much less decorous pursuit, off-camera, of real-life romances with the locals.

Under our reporter's very nose, his bashful neighbour is plucked out of a village dance by the famously gorgeous leading actress, with whom he at once falls besottedly in love. Our would-be hero manages only to trip over the black-booted foot of the director. So he's amazed - not to say alarmed - when her steely eye seems to be straying his way.

His literary agent George, though, is ecstatic. Interest from a bigshot movie producer like her could catapult a struggling novelist into instant bestsellerdom. George orders him to ooze his best Celtic charm and wrap the red roses in proofs of his latest thriller.

Which leaves Nicholas Llewellyn Bevan in a quandary. What's this poor-but-honest hack to do - lie back and think of Hollywood?




Everyone tells you the second novel's hard. It had been. Very. But, after sweating the requisite buckets of blood, I'd got there in the end, and confidently waited for inspiration to gush on the third. It didn't.

Sorry. As source material for amusing repartee, writer's block ranks right up there with motorway traffic jams and IKEA assembly manuals. Besides, I'm truly not the kind of wally who sits around waiting for the muse to alight. No way. Straight after Dancing to the Pipers, I had rolled up the sleeves afresh and set to work on a book which - somehow - wouldn't catch fire. It should have done. It was set in a local radio station so, on the well-known premise that you should write about what you know, I ought to have been home and dry, after all those years of employment at the BBC. I wish I could explain why it didn't work - why, God knows, so many other manuscripts have slowly turned up their toes and died on me. One depressingly plausible reason might be affluence, courtesy of my husband. If I'd had four kids and a starving mortgage, I simply couldn't have wasted several weeks or months faffing around with a story which wasn't coming alive. I'd either have put it right, or abandoned it at Chapter Three, not Chapter Thirty-Three.

Be that as it may, after my editor, Richenda had felt obliged to agree that the book wasn't much cop, I plummeted into the Slough of Despond. Like you would, chucking out several months of sweated labour - again. Enough to make anyone wonder whether they shouldn't have taken up accountancy or zoo-keeping or some other gainful employment. I suppose I poodled around for a few weeks, taking geranium cuttings, glaring at the river, barking at sheep, usual kind of thing, getting grumpier and grumpier. And, as I recall, rather fat, too. At length - and I promise this is entirely true - I went to bed one night and in the depths of my self-loathing asked God, please, just to give me one decent idea for a novel. This isn't something I'm in the habit of doing. I reckon the Almighty has far more important things on His mind than the piffling crises of an inky hack in rural North Yorkshire. I'm embarrassed even to admit to having troubled Him. Except I woke up with - clear as daylight - a brilliant idea. Well, I thought it was a brilliant idea. I'd re-write Pride and Prejudice.

No, I wasn't suffering from a grandiose delusion that Jane Austen's classic needed a posthumous polish. I was seeing the ultimate comic subversion of the romance game. P & P, after all, is surely the sublime blueprint which has cloned hundreds - thousands, tens of thousands - of markedly less sublime imitations, the fluffy girl-meets-boy/girl-hates-boy/girl-marries-boy tales which have tended to give the whole genre a bad name. Darcy, the rich and powerful master of Pemberley, is surely your definitive tall, dark and to-die-for hero. Lizzy, not as beautiful as her elder sister, is the perfect, sparky and likeable heroine. And she does contrive, very plausibly, to loathe Darcy for an awful lot of pages before seeing the light. Actually, there are those who suggest she doesn't so much see the light as see the glories of Pemberley spread before her on her holiday up north, and twig what she's turning down. Sensible girl, Elizabeth Bennet.

My idea was this, though. Not merely did I want to update this classic story to the present day, I planned to reverse all the sexes. This wouldn't just be Pride & Prejudice minus bonnets and bosoms, with Porsches instead of horses and mobile phones in place of quill pens, I wanted a very different sort of hero. You see, for all I realize this sounds like sacrilege and, believe me, I adore the novel and have been profoundly and unutterably in love with Mr Darcy since the age of thirteen, I cannot help feeling that neither he, nor his darker and moodier brothers Mr Rochester and Heathcliff, are credible heroes for today's world. Be honest. Can you see Darcy changing nappies? Heathcliff and Rochester pushing trolleys round Sainsbury's? Quite.

So Mr Darcy, with all his daunting wealth, status and influence, was going to become Ms Darcy - Mary Dance, perhaps? And I didn't have to trouble myself working out a plot. Jane Austen had supplied it. All I had to do was take her story, strand-by-strand, and see if I could rework it credibly in drag, as it were, and in the context of the contemporary world. The key to doing this came to me almost immediately, from a half-formed idea I'd been toying with ever since Yorkshire Television began filming Heartbeat up the road. Time was we lived the Esk Valley. These days we live in Heartbeat country. I'd long been fascinated by the impact the arrival of a television film unit has on a rural village. To say they land like Martians in flying saucers is to understate. OK, they may have assumed human form but you can spot these aliens at a hundred paces, no problem. Is it the aura of glamour they exude? The designer handbags? The accents? I dunno, but they sure stir a place up.

So here was my vehicle. My female Darcy figure would be a bigshot director, come to Nicholas Llewellyn Bevan's sleepy little village to film - what else? - an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Finding the parallels for Austen's meticulous social structure was a fascinating process. Central to the original plot, of course, is that the relationship between Lizzy and Darcy is not just a flowery love story. As the publicity machine for the BBC's own delicious adaptation of the book plugged relentlessly, this is a tale of sex, power and money. In hooking Darcy, Lizzy has made a very smart career move. Women, after all, had precious few options until relatively recent times, and the best and most profitable was undoubtedly a good marriage.

What taxed me was finding a sex-reversed equivalent today. The answer was to make the Lizzy Bennet figure a struggling writer. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Hollywood taking an interest - better still an option - in a novelist's work is a sure fire way to propel that novelist into serious sales figures and the shelves at Tesco's. This female Darcy has the power to transform our boy-next-door's life in a big way.

The frightening prospect for me, though, was that my 'heroine' - the character through whose eyes and thoughts most of the story would be experienced - was a man. Writing not just a novel but a romantic comedy from a male perspective seemed a pretty bold step. I embarked on it almost as an experiment, a joke. I had nothing to lose, I told myself, so why not give it a go, see if it worked?

To my surprise, it seemed to. I certainly had no problem believing what I wrote. In fact I found the process fantastically liberating. Oh, the lengths to which I'd had to go before, trying to make my heroines as different as possible from me. The anxious care with which I'd described faces and figures in every respect unlike my own. But no one was likely to confuse me with a bloke, were they? So into Mr Bevan's scruffy, unshaven persona I could safely pour my whole heart and soul. He, like me, was a novelist earning respectable reviews and less than respectable money. He worked in an attic overlooking the moors, with a shelf close to his desk on which were arrayed all the foreign language editions of his novels to make it look as though he'd turned out more than the two (to date) he'd actually written. And I shared with him all - and I mean all - the problems of the writing process. He, like me, had a dead novel chest in which were stored the manuscripts which had failed. Or those on which, as he put it, he'd reluctantly had to declare brain death and pull out the word processor plugs. He had yet to decide whether it was best to plan a novel beforehand, or just plunge ahead on a wing and a prayer. Mr Bevan's me all right, much more directly than any other of my characters. He just happens to be a man.

And the book simply poured out, at least for the first dozen or so chapters. God it was bliss - rapture - after months of chipping out words as with a nail file from granite. It felt so terrific, I gave my alter ego hero a matching burst of rabid creativity. Nicholas Llewellyn Bevan bashed out twelve fluent chapters, and then… Well, let's just say I had a further bright idea, and both my book and his life changed course as a result.

Perhaps the craziest bit of life imitating art, though, is that I was approached by a Hollywood producer after writing this book. No kidding. She came up to York and took me out to lunch. There was a Welsh independent television company interested as well - another free lunch. I almost took to wearing shades and booked in for the face-lift, but… the movie has yet to materialize. As I've reflected elsewhere, life isn't nearly so satisfying as fiction. Besides, I'm not complaining. Woman's Hour serialized an abridgement, it was recorded in its entirety by a talking book company, and the paperback was sighted on the best seller stand at more than one airport and railway station. Not by me - although I was strongly tempted to hop on a train and do a tour of the London terminals just to view this extraordinary phenomenon. I just ploughed on with the next book - and, you may be sure, thanked God.

Incidentally, there's a curious postscript. A while later, I read in The Sunday Times that Channel Four (or it may have been BBC 2) was commissioning a contemporary, sex-reversed re-working of Pride & Prejudice, scripted by Fay Weldon, under the title 'The Bevan Boys'. I was rather startled to learn that the female Darcy figure was set to be a movie producer, and even more taken aback to be telephoned by The Daily Express with an invitation to accuse the production company of blatant plagiarism. Since I'm perfectly sure the distinguished likes of Fay Weldon don't need to borrow ideas from the likes of me, I didn't. But I'm quite mean-spirited enough to be glad, several years on, that there's been no sign of the project.